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Interview with Barry Black, December 13, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Barry Black, December 13, 2002
December 13, 2002
Interview with Admiral Barry Black
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Black, Barry Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  12/13/2002 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  74 minutes


Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock. I’m a staff person of the Randall Library at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Today is the 13 of December in the year 2002 and we’re at Fort Myer, Virginia. I’m accompanied by David White, Rear Admiral retired and we’re interviewing today Admiral Barry Black.

Zarbock: Good morning sir, how are you?

Black: Good morning Paul, I’m well.

Zarbock: I’m going to ask the first question which is how did you get into the clergy and from the clergy, how did you get into the Chaplains’ Corps?

Black: When my mother was pregnant with me many, many years ago, she was baptized as a Christian and before she entered the pool of baptism, she asked the Holy Spirit to bless the unborn child in her womb. So they say I entered the world preaching. I had never wanted to do anything else. I felt a call of God on my life since I can remember.

I used to gather my siblings together, they were my first congregation, four of them, and I would preach to them I am told a one word sermon, dirt, dirt, dirt. So I was against sin from the start, the symbolism there with the dirt. So I’ve always wanted to be a minister. That was the call of God on my life.

Zarbock: Where were you born, sir?

Black: I was born in the beautiful city of Baltimore, Maryland.

Zarbock: And on what date?

Black: November 1, 1948. Appropriately I was born on All Saints Day.

Zarbock: And your father, was he a member of the clergy?

Black: My father was hardly a member of the clergy. There was a rock and roll group who adequately described my father. They stated in the lyrics, “Papa was a rolling stone”. My father was rather nomadic. He was in and out so it was a female led household that provided the foundation for who I would become.

Zarbock: How would you describe the neighborhood where you were raised as a youth?

Black: I grew up in the Public Housing Project of Baltimore, Maryland in a place called Cherry Hill. They said of Nazareth in the New Testament, “Can any good thing come out of it?” Similar remarks, although less positive, were made about Cherry Hill. Cherry Hill was however for us a delightful vertical climb up the socioeconomic ladder because you had to be at the nadir before you were eligible for Cherry Hill.

Cherry Hill had grass, it had a playground, it had a swimming pool. Cherry Hill had fancy street names like Cherry Land Road and Spellman Road, quite different from the inner city names in the toxic neighborhood that I lived in before going to Cherry Hill. Cherry Hill had no prostitutes on the corner. Cherry Hill had no drug addicts trying to push their ware so we felt a little like the Jefferson’s on television, “Well we’re moving on up”. So it was a delightful experience for us to be in Cherry Hill where the radiators would actually give us heat and we were very, very pleased to be there.

Zarbock: How old were you when you moved to Cherry Hill?

Black: I moved to Cherry Hill when I was 10 years of age in 1958.

Zarbock: There’s a lot of experience that you had before you moved to Cherry Hill.

Black: Well most of them very negative. I can remember at least three times coming home from school and seeing the little furniture that we had on the street. We were evicted before I could spell eviction! That was pretty negative, no heat, hand-me-down clothing, and holes in your shoes. It was a very, very challenging childhood and yet in many ways, we had a tremendous amount of love, a tremendous amount of solidarity in the neighborhood though we didn't have very much and we were nurtured in a very splendid way by the church. The church became my extended family.

Zarbock: Did the church reach out to you or did you go knock on the door?

Black: I think the church reached out to us and we went and knocked on the door. It was kind of reciprocal arrangement. After my mother was baptized while she was pregnant with me, she became involved in a wonderful church in the inner city that was fairly large and had a number of members who were quite well to do. This was a middle class church by African American standards with about a thousand members.

The reason that I speak Standard English instead of “what it is dog” which I also speak, that’s my native tongue. I’m multilingual from that standpoint. My native tongue would be phonics, but the reason why I speak Standard English was because of that church and the positive male role models that I had I got from that church. The education I received

was a wonderful education in parochial schools. I would not have been able to attend parochial schools. We didn't have the money, but it was generously subsidized by the church.

In fact, this particular Church, the Berea Temple Seventh Day Adventist Church on Madison Avenue and Roberts Street, it’s still there in Baltimore, had a policy that any child who wanted to go to church school to receive a Christian education would be able to go. If the parents didn't have the money, the church would ensure that they would be able to matriculate at the school.

So from grade one all the way through the seminary, my siblings and I matriculated in parochial Christian schools and it was magnificent. At one point because we were on welfare, the educational costs for the family was more than the annual income. But, of course, we received subsidies from the church. Moreover on the weekends, we were always invited out to dinner by some wonderful individual who knew the meaning of Christianity.

We were invited out so much, at that time I had four siblings, we were invited out so much that I actually thought we were celebrities! I mean every weekend, “You’re eating with us!”, so it was actually, a rather wonderful childhood.

Zarbock: I’ve got to pause and ask a very low level question. Children that are invited out to dine with somebody else are usually somewhere along the line told,” now this is the knife that you use, this is the fork”, the whole table manner thing. Etiquette. Who took care of that? Part of socialization is manners and etiquette. By the way, manners to me are a lubricant that make the social order go without hostility. Etiquette is the timing of manners. Okay? You may have very good manners, but you don’t do them at the right time, you don’t have any etiquette.

Black: Well I had a very wise mother. She only had a 4th grade education. She grew up in Hartsville, South Carolina, the daughter of a sharecropper. But my mother would give us our allowance based upon scripture memorization. So every verse was a nickel. Of course she quickly put me on the flat rate when she realized that this was not going to work. When I started with the Book of Genesis, she said, “ No. No time out.” So we had an understanding.

Proverbs is my favorite Bible Book today because of the short verses. Each a nickel! My mother taught us manners and etiquette by saying, “ watch what the others do,” which is a very wise strategy right now. So we would wait until the appropriate fork was picked up and then we would follow suit. Let’s face it. Many of the families that invited us out had just a little bit more than we. So we didn't have to worry about Emily Post at that time.

My mother gave advice that I continued to follow through life and that was, “ God gave you two ears, one mouth, do a lot of listening, watch your eyes, you’ve got two of those, do a lot of observing and follow the yellow brick road”, so that’s what we did.

Zarbock: Is your mother still alive?

Black: Unfortunately not, she died in 1987.

Zarbock: A grand lady.

Black: Very, very special.

Zarbock: Well so you were in grade school in the parochial school.

Black: That’s correct.

Zarbock: Finished 8th grade?

Black: Well actually I finished 10th and then moved to a boarding school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania called Pine Forge Academy. It cost about $15,000 a year so it was an amazing tuition and my mother had two of us there at the same time and two older. I was the fourth, and two older ones in the College which cost about the same amount. You’re talking about $60,000 a year for an education.

Now my children have subsequently matriculated at the same schools, Pine Forge Academy and Oakwood College. A little more money now, but just having one there, I know the challenge it is to me personally so I marvel at what my mother was able to do. The Boarding School was an idyllic experience. That was where we were force fed Mozart and Mendelssohn and Bach and Beethoven. You sat for an hour or so listening to those fellows and they grow on you, needless to say.

We wore uniforms. That was where I learned a little bit about some communication gifts that I had. We had debating clubs. We had annual oratorical contests, which I participated in. So it was a wonderful experience where you could develop socialization skills. I had a crush on my English lit teacher so I learned Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faust, Longfellow, William Cullen Brandt, all of those things and it was a marvelous, marvelous experience for an inner city lad.

Zarbock: Was this a parochial school?

Black: Yes it was.

Zarbock: Supported by…

Black: The Seventh Day Adventist Church supported the school.

Zarbock: And you seemed to suggest that the caliber, the intellectual caliber of the faculty was very high.

Black: It actually was quite high. This was in the 60’s where it was not exactly to get into some of the finishing schools, the non-African American finishing schools. Many of the faculty members,quite frankly, would have done extremely well at the University level. Some of them actually had Ph.D.’s and couldn’t get jobs in other places. So they poured their gifts and their talents and their abilities into us. I actually had a science teacher who studied under George Washington Carver! So that’s the caliber of individual that you had at both Pine Forge Academy, the College and then at Oakwood College, the HBCU that I matriculated at, the Historical Black College that I matriculated at to get my Baccalaureate Degree.

Zarbock: What was the population of African American students when you went to the boarding school?

Black: At Pine Forge Academy, there were probably 200 students. There was one Euro-American. The rest were Afro-American. At my college, you have to remember that Alabama was the segregated South, at my college I think there were three non-Afro-Americans. The college, however, pulled people from all over the world so we had Africans, we had people from the Caribbean, we had black people from Europe so it was a delightful experience.

Zarbock: You got a BS. Or a BA.?


Zarbock: And what year?

Black: 1970 was when I graduated from Oakwood College.

Zarbock: What were your career leanings and intentions at that time?

Black: Well I’ve always wanted to be a preacher, but the reality of economics distracted me. I saw that the ministers who pastured my church were not exactly wealthy (laughter) and I wanted to make a little money. So as an undergraduate, I changed my major every other semester knowing that eventually Francis Thompson Sound of Heaven would catch up with me.

In my junior year, I finally said,” okay God, I’ll be a poor preacher.” It was at that time that something inside of me said, “ who said anything about being poor?” Obviously at that time I didn't know that I would one day be a two star admiral. The unfolding of God’s loving providence has a way of compensating you when you decide to walk in His will. So I became a minister and I’ve never looked back.

Zarbock: Where did you start off as a cleric?

Black: Well I graduated from the seminary in 1973 with a Master of Divinity Degree and I went to what was called in that day, the South Atlantic Conference of Seventh Day Adventist in North and South Carolina. I really was excited about going to South Carolina, the home of my mom. We would make an annual pilgrimage to Hartsville, South Carolina as a child.

I started out pastoring Florence, South Carolina District. There were seven churches in the district who through evangelistic outreach, we raised up an eighth. So I pastored eight churches simultaneously.

Zarbock: As a circuit rider?

Black: That’s right. I preached three times each week, each weekend. We worshipped on Saturday. So I would preach three times a Saturday, had a 9:00 service, an 11:00 service and a 3:00 service. Granted, these were in three different cities. My Northernmost city was 120 miles from my Southernmost city. I put 280,000 miles on my car in the first year and a half.

I would preach three different sermons each Saturday because I didn't want my new bride to have to hear the same message. So it was an accelerated education in homiletics as well because a lot of preaching is not only taught, it is caught and if you do it enough, you’ll eventually get the hang of it. At least you’ll know what works for the different congregations. So it was delightful accelerated education in ministry.

I learned how to delegate. You don’t pastor 11 churches without learning how to do that. I learned how to set goals with people because I was in my early 20’s. I realized that there were fantastic leaders in each of the churches and so I mobilized them to try to achieve shared goals.

Zarbock: Excuse me, how old were you when you started this circuit riding?

Black: 22, I was 22 years old.


Black: So it was a wonderful experience of learning how to do leadership by using people to get things accomplished and I continued to use many of those valuable lessons through the years.

Zarbock: What was the social milieu like at that time? Was it, “ niggers go over there and white folks go over here? “ Was that the language?

Black: Well in South Carolina, we were "nigras'". They were too polite, usually, to our faces to call us by the other name. But it was actually a rather pleasant experience. I had spent enough time in the South to appreciate its honesty. I had spent enough time in the North to realize that racism is often covert and I personally preferred the other kind. So that was a kind of understanding between blacks and whites.

Zarbock: It could be dangerous! But the danger was sort of like a signpost. You knew where danger was.

Black: Exactly! My basic experience even in the North was one of Apartheid. I did not meet personally a white person until I was 16 years old!! Now that’s growing up in Baltimore. So the inner city can, at least in the 60’s, have its own kind of segregation in the entire socialization process. My schools were black. The only time I saw white people was on television or if you looked across at white people on the bus.

In terms of actually engaging a non-African American in conversation, I was 16 years old. So the South was a very familiar environment, a very comfortable environment. We had a lot of farmers and they were hard workers, a wonderful work ethic, but they were the best cooks I’ve ever known. I really, really enjoyed that experience. They took care of the Pastor.

So when my bride, Brenda and I ,would go to a church, they were so appreciative that when we’d come out. Our little American Motors Hornet was the car.!! The Green Hornet, was piled up with bushel baskets of collard greens and mustard greens and sweet potatoes and we had already feasted repeatedly while there, sweet potato pie! It was just a beatific experience. I loved those people. In fact, in a couple of weeks I’m going back to Florence for a gigantic homecoming and I’m looking forward to some good eating. So it was a great, great experience.

And the people were so responsive in their worship. I actually thought I was a much greater preacher than I was because of the response of the congregation (laughter). I had to come North to learn that, “ Hey, you’re not exactly Martin Luther King .Jr.!” They were responsive with their “amen’s and hallelujah’s” and,” help him Lord.” which I sometimes needed. and so it was a wonderful, wonderful experience of learning the antiphonal nature of great worship, the call and response of the wonderful African American worship tradition. Some of that still permeates my worship style and preaching style.

Zarbock: By the way speaking of food, are you fond of shrimp and grits?

Black: I’m fond of grits. In the South when you got to a restaurant for breakfast even today, they want to know, “What will you have with your grits” (laughter). It is understood that you will be having grits. We just need to know what you’ll be having with it, so that’s wonderful too.

Zarbock: Well here you are, a circuit rider in South Carolina. You’re well received apparently by your own humble evaluation of magnificent preaching.

Black: My evaluation of the people and not exactly an objective evaluation I might add.

Zarbock: So what was the next hill you went up?

Black: Well I was promoted. I was promoted from eight churches to three and I pastored in Raleigh, Durham and Rocky Mount. It was in Durham where I immediately enrolled in North Carolina Central University and completed a Master’s Degree in Counseling. This was a much more sophisticated venue. I no longer had farmers. I had the, how should I put it kindly? Well probably the upper middle class, by African American standards. I had lawyers in my congregation. I had physicians in my congregation. So I had to shift gears.

I learned that education can somewhat bring about a more subdued, a more contemplative worship style, a more cerebral worship style. So I had to get a few books on vocabulary. I remember Thirty Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary was one. I added some spice to my pulpit delivery, but it was a wonderful experience with a lot of down to earth people as well.

One of the things that Baltimore gave me, and for which I will forever be grateful, was an ability to connect across the spectrum of people. So that I could connect with Aunt Sally who had a second grade education, but I could also connect with the Ph.D. in the congregation and that’s a wonderful gift to have -- to be able to give your message in such a way that you don’t bore the people who are uneducated, but that you still stretch the people who have education.

Martin King did it probably as well as anyone by using figures of speech. For instance his I Have a Dream speech, he said, “I’m happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Five score years ago a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the magnificent words of the Declaration of Independence and this momentous decree, Emancipation Proclamation, came as a great beacon light of hope to thousands of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice”.

Well uneducated can understand it, educated can understand it. So you learn how to use speech in such a creative way – “a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity “– in a way that will connect with the spectrum of people. That’s an exciting kind of experience, a challenging kind of experience and it enabled me I think to be a more effective Navy Chaplain as well because you have the spectrum there as people enter the military service.

Zarbock: How long were you in the Raleigh-Durham area?

Black: I was there for a year and a half before the call of the Navy was heard.

Zarbock: And what year was the call of the Navy heard?

Black: The call of the Navy was in 1976. The call came rather quickly actually. When I came to the Raleigh-Durham area, I would preach in the Durham church, that was my headquarter church. Five young men would come from Norfolk, Virginia, where they were stationed in the Navy to hear me preach every weekend. That’s a good little drive from Norfolk, Virginia to Durham, North Carolina.

So I knew I was an effective preacher, but I certainly wasn’t that good that you would make that kind of commute. So I finally said,” why not worship in the chapel, why not enjoy what the Navy has provided in terms of your worship experience?” And their response was that they had never seen an African American Navy Chaplain.

This was in 1976. Well when I joined I learned that there were some African American Navy Chaplains, but obviously not enough. That was the seed that was planted in the soil of my mind ,that would in 18 months bring about a harvest of me, actually pursuing the military Chaplaincy as a vocation.

Zarbock: And what were the practical aspects of getting into the Navy?

Black: I first had to really find out whether or not the Navy was where I wanted to be.? So I visited an Army chaplain, spent a day with him, an Air Force chaplain, spent a day with him, a Navy chaplain, spent a day with him. I settled on the Navy. But I settled on the Navy actually for a very selfish reason. The Navy was the only service branch at that time, in 1976, that would permit me to keep my full-length beard which I was under the impression that I could not live without.

So that was the critical factor! Although I really appreciated the variety of ministries available in the Navy. The Navy was the only branch that offered me an opportunity not only to go out on ships, but also to serve with the Marines, to serve with the Coast Guard, so that seemed more exciting – Go Navy! So with the full-length beard as the final clincher…

Zarbock: When you say full length, show me…?

Black: It was all the way around. That was the thing in those days. I actually had an Afro then. In fact, there’s an interesting photograph of me that I’ve tried to get destroyed, but it’s become quite popular, with the hair and the beard as a Lieutenant at Chaplain School. When it’s shown, there’s usually laughter. But I do clean up well, fortunately. But the Navy permitted me to look like that in those days. So. anchors aweigh. I was off and running and I’ve never regretted that decision.

Zarbock: Well okay so you stick up your right hand and now you’re a chaplain.

Black: I’m a chaplain, my first duty station was Norfolk, Virginia, the very place where the young men were commuting from so needless to say, they stopped their commute. I was involved as a circuit rider again. I was a circuit rider with eight churches starting out as a young minister and as a young chaplain, still in my 20’s. I was a circuit rider on various ships.

It was the best thing that could ever happen to me because it was an accelerated education in seagoing ministry. In my opinion, that’s what the Navy is all about. I mean if you want to feel your heart pound and feel the adrenalin and feel the rush and feel the joy, just get underway. So I learned about the small boys, the Desron Navy. I learned about the Fibron Navy, the Gator Navy where you had Marines coming aboard, and I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything.

I did two Mediterranean deployments in 18 months. So it was six months at a pop. They let me come home with just enough time to get a baby going (laughter) and they took me back. Brought me back and then I got underway when my son, Barry Black II, was 10 days old. So it was an exciting experience. What a wonderful experience of ministry.

My first two years, I baptized 40 people. So those who say that there are no evangelistic opportunities available in military…

Zarbock: These are adult baptisms?

Black: Adult baptism. These were the individuals who came to my underway Bible study. Every night underway we had Bible study. We ended up having to have multiple Bible studies. We had over 70 people. I mean that’s an incredible number considering, you know, the actual number of people on some of these smaller ships. Eventually by the end of the deployment as we came back in, the baptisms began to occur.

So that was a wonderful experience because it showed me that military ministry provides a magnificent opportunity particularly to reach those that say, “ I have no faith at all, I have no understanding of God, I’m just not in to that!” We call them the “no preference” individuals. They check no preference. These individuals can be drawn in. They already have a faith even though you sometimes have to help them discover that faith. That was just an exciting experience of ministry, went by just like that.

Zarbock: There must have been attitudes of, “ What in the hell can a black clergyman, a black chaplain mean to me?” There must have been a certain percentage of people that said “Ah, get away”. Am I correct in that?

Black: I think they probably would have if I thought of myself as a black chaplain. The fact of the matter is I didn't. I thought of myself as a human being and I didn't think of color. I really didn't. In fact even today in many of my meetings, I’m the only person of color, actually technically I’m not.

Zarbock: Actually I’m of color too, a different color.

Black: And when they say, “ What do African Americans feel about something?” I’m actually looking around cause I hardly can represent a whole, you know, I can’t generalize and pontificate about with African Americans feel. So I didn't think of myself that way and I think people receive you many times the way you think of yourself. I think they picked it up intuitively. They knew here’s a guy who thinks of himself as a human being.

There’s also something magnetic about the power of the Word of God that draws. It doesn’t have a color. There’s something magnetic about the good news from the Christian perspective. Christ says “If I be lifted, I’ll draw” and so I saw that synergy of magnetism that came as a result of my ministry and the ministry of others who were there.

Zarbock: Well what were the next steps?

Black: My next series was the Naval Support Activity in Philadelphia. I was only there for nine months, but I probably worked harder. This was in the Yard, the ships in the Yards. I was responsible for all the ships in the Yards. Well the morale of the ships usually goes down as the appearance of the ships go down.

Moreover many of the sailors were commuting from Norfolk, Virginia to the ships in the Yard. That’s a little bit of a commute. I did an awful lot of counseling. You’re not going to be an effective counselor unless you give of yourself. When the woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment in the New Testament, Jesus said, “ virtue went out of him,” and I think virtue has to go out of you if you’re going to be an effective counselor so it’s a drain.

I would come home absolutely exhausted. I was there for nine months when Chuck Greenwood, my good, good buddy, a wonderful, wonderful chaplain who would later become my Command Chaplain at the Naval Academy, called and said, “The Chief wants you to go to the Naval Academy, but I understand that the word is out that you’re not willing to cut off your beard and, of course, at the Naval Academy, with the clean-cut midshipmen, that would be required”.

My answer was similar to that of Peter when Jesus wanted to wash his feet and Peter said, “You can’t wash my feet” and Jesus said, “ if he didn't wash his feet, he couldn’t have any part of him,” and Peter said, “ well give me a bath if that’s required.” I said to Chaplain Greenwood, “ not only my beard, but any other hair on my body (laughter) I’m willing to shave to go to the Naval Academy.”

Zarbock: No Samson you?

Black: No, no. So once he heard that, I was off and running to the Naval Academy sans beard. Now that had to be a mountain top experience, the apotheosis of my experience in military ministry. The Naval Academy is a showcase environment. If you enjoy preaching, it doesn’t get any better than that.

I preached on Sunday, Easter Sunday, a little old Junior, I was still a Lieutenant and given the opportunity to preach. I looked out at the then Vice-President of the United States who was sitting in the audience. Now where are you going to get, you’re in your late 20’s then, an opportunity in a showcase environment with retired Admirals and Generals in the congregation along with the Midshipmen, Senators coming to visit with their children or Congress persons coming to visit and you are there, a boy from the hood, public housing projects, welfare cheese and cornbread, preaching to the Vice-President of the United States and others about the stones that Easter rolled away.

So it was just an absolutely incredible experience. Involvement with the Midshipmen, involvement with the best and the brightest, many of whom would be the future leaders of the sea services, the Commandants of the Marine Corps, Chiefs of Navy Personnel, just wonderful, wonderful relationships that I was able to involve myself with. They became friends for life. So that was an exciting time.

From the Naval Academy, I went overseas to Okinawa, Japan. Again I hate to sound biased, but I don’t think there are any bad duty stations in the Navy. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience of ministry in Okinawa and later Ewokuno____, I was there on mainland Japan for three months, fantastic experience. I learned about the Japanese culture, tremendous amount of respect.

I got rid of some of my ethnocentrism because I saw some of the good things in the other cultures. Then from there, I got what I asked for, recruit training command in San Diego. I learned an awful lot about leadership from a senior chaplain by the name of Julian Genaul, a Roman Catholic priest.

Zarbock: Again to date this, the year is now?

Black: This was 1983.

Zarbock: And you are how old?

Black: I’m over 30 by that time. Julian is there. These are the recruits. We had three Recruit Training Commands, one in Great Lakes where we all are now, and another one in Orlando. But San Diego dubbed itself America’s finest city and I wouldn’t argue with them. Julian came in, there were six other chaplains working with me at the Recruit Training Command. Absolutely the hardest job you’ll ever love.

Julian said, “I want each of you to come up with six ideas for ministry that we haven’t done yet”. By tapping into our creative energies, we unleashed a positive force for ministry that the entire Command was talking about. He also tapped into the creative energies of some of the chaplains who had until that point made very little contributions to the command religious program.

So I learned how to do that -- that a strong team is far more powerful than individual superstars. I learned that from Julian.

Zarbock: How long were you there?

Black: I was there for two wonderful years. Short toured to go where I wanted to go, underway on the Belleau Wood. This is a helicopter Aircraft CarrawuWood is pretty, pretty close. This was an exciting opportunity to do the Western Pacific deployment, to work with Marines, to do the holy ____ which I had done in the early periods on the ships, being let down to conduct worship services on the different ships, exciting, exciting, exciting.

It was an opportunity to have my daily radio program, my daily television program because all of the equipment was there. We called them Comrail projects, Community Relations Projects, humanitarian outreaches, mobilizing the 3000 souls that were on that vessel to just get an awful lot of good things accomplished. It was just a very, very exciting ministry.

To be dragged into challenging ports like Singapore, Padua Beach, Thailand, Bangkok, it was a tough life. A tough life, but someone had to do it. So that helicopter aircraft experience, aircraft carrier experience was just wonderful. To see these wonderful planes and their vertical takeoff, the vertical landings, magnificent ministry, magnificent opportunity to make a difference and to deliver innovative life transforming ministry to the people.

Zarbock: What was the nature of problems that people brought to you while you were on this particular ship?

Black: The typical challenges of a deployed sailor or Marine. Problems with family back home because many times a lot of things unravel. “The refrigerator breaks down,” the, “ car breaks down,” and others concerned about family back home. In those days, we had no email. Thank God, to some extent , because it took a while for the bad news to reach the ship. No cell phones and some of the things they have today.

We had in those days, a center that we could send a message back to where chaplains would assist the family there back home. Then the interpersonal relationship conflicts that inevitably will happen when you’ve got that many people aboard. The vocational challenges,” I want to get ahead!” “ I didn't get promoted.” That kind of thing. And assisting people with those kinds of challenges.

Marriage preparation, marriage enrichment training, reunion training as they had back, to let them know that they’re going to have to take it slowly. The dependent spouse you left is not going to be the same person that you may necessarily find, when you go back home.! So those kinds of counseling challenges.

Zarbock: In that time at that place, how were connections made? With the Red Cross?

Black: Oh we had a phone, I forget, but there was a phone you could use, I forget what they called it, that you could call back. You had to Roger in and Roger out. It was rather cumbersome. And then there was the regular message traffic that would come to the ship that we would receive as well.

Zarbock: Okay. Seaman Smith’s father dies in Iowa and how does the family in Iowa…????

Black: They would probably contact Command who would contact the American Red Cross who would send an American Red Cross message to the ship and the Commanding Officer or the Executive Officer would contact the Chaplain and the Chaplain would be the one who would deliver the news. But sometimes it’s good news about the birth of a child, or something like that.

Zarbock: But the Red Cross helped in those days?

Black: That’s the way it was done and scores of American Red Cross messages, hundreds, sometimes thousands over a six month deployment, could come to an aircraft carrier.

Zarbock: By the way, why did an aircraft carrier get named after a famous land battle in World War I?

Black: Well it’s an amphibious carrier and the Marines were aboard.

Zarbock: And I assume the Marines were at Belleau Wood.

Black: That’s right.

Zarbock: There it is! How did the Marines see Naval personnel? In your case, a helping person?

Black: The Marines loved their chaplains. The Marines are some of the most loyal when it comes to the support of the chaplains. I think a part of that is because when the Marines are in harm’s way .and they’re out in the field, the history of the Navy Chaplain Corps demonstrate that the chaplains have been there for them without weapons providing ministry and we have had a lot of our chaplains give their last full measure of devotion while serving our Marine colleagues.

Capadano and Brett are two names that jump to mind during Vietnam!!! So we get tremendous support from the Marines and it’s wonderful duty, serving the Marines.

Zarbock: And the corpsmen too of course supported this emotional connection.

Black: Exactly.

Zarbock: Well, the Belleau Wood. How long were you there?

Black: I was on that ship for 30 wonderful months. I left there and was sent to the advanced course at the Chaplain School which was kind of a sabbatical for me. It was a wonderful experience. I received orders to go there as an instructor because by that time I had completed a doctorate from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Theology and was I guess a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology at the United States International University.

So while I’m doing all of this, dealing with my inferiority complex, I’m taking classes on the side. So I went there as an instructor, but something happened that made that job go away so I asked to stay there as a student. It was a wonderful experience so learning the theoretical constructs of leadership and management and also picking up the easiest Master’s Degree I’ve ever received, a Master’s Degree in Management from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.

So it was very, very interesting. I was finishing a Master’s Degree and writing a Ph.D. dissertation at the same time.

Zarbock: What was your dissertation on, by the way?

Black: My dissertation in layman’s language was the Relationship of Depressive Affect to Deployment. Are people who are deployed more depressed or less depressed than those who stay behind. Well common sense would probably say you’re away from your family, you’re away from loved ones, you’re more depressed than those who are going home every night.

The data revealed that people who are underway, and I knew it in my heart of hearts, although I couldn’t tell my wife that, the people who are deployed and underway are actually less depressed than the people who go home every night (laughter). So that was one of the dissertations I wrote. The other dissertation I wrote was on Roles and Values, Conflicts of Military Chaplains, but that was – the one on depressive affect I did not let my wife read because I didn't want her to see the facts.

Zarbock: Well that’s clearly a high mark in diplomacy right there. Again we’re back to etiquette.

Black: You are not going to be married for 30 years without learning some diplomacy, trust me there.

Zarbock: Well continue on please.

Black: The advanced course was a wonderful, wonderful experience. We had subject matter experts coming in and training us. Then from there I went to MAG 31 which was an exciting experience. I had a Command Chaplain job, supervisory job, chaplains working for me and this was also during Desert Shield, Desert Storm, so it was an exciting time to be with Marines, particularly the aviation side of Marines because a number of our squadrons were involved in explaining things to Sadaam Hussein. That was an exciting, challenging, adrenalin pumping time.

From there I was short toured again to go to the Chief of Naval Education and Training in Pensacola, Florida and that was the fast lane that actually Rear Admiral White had something to do with. It was my first exposure to the world of the major claimant and to the political arena of echelons and force chaplains and claimant chaplains and learning a totally different environment from the pastoral necessary and the preaching and the counseling.

Zarbock: Give us a little definition and illustration of what you meant by the phrase fast lane.

Black: Well it’s the lane of those who will later be the leaders in the Corps, O-6’s and O-7’s and O-8’s quite frankly. These are the individuals who will see the big picture and who will be a part of policy making and decision making and the management of the entire Chaplain Corps. This was a foot in the door in beginning that process of learning and getting an education. It happened early.

I was a junior commander going there so that was a great, great time to begin to receive that education. That was a wonderful, wonderful opportunity where some big things started happening. You’ve heard of a famous occurrence called Tail Hook?

Zarbock: I’m sorry, years from now that won’t mean anything. Would you define tail hook? Isn’t that a device that’s on an aircraft carrier?

Black: That’s correct. Tail hook is a mechanism on an aircraft carrier that helps stop the jets that are coming in and have to stop on a postage stamp, almost, and there is an aviation organization in the Navy by that name. I don’t know if that organization still exists, but there used to be an organization by that name. At one of their conventions or meetings, some misbehavior occurred, to put it gently , that made the newspapers and made the Navy aware of a need to emphasize core values.

I was at the Chief of Naval Education and Training at the time. They wanted someone to chair a Quality Management Board, total quality language, to put together a Corps values package for the Navy and they wanted someone who had a doctorate because there were a lot of Ph.D.’s who would be working on the project.

Well one of my philosophies, my mother taught me was “ volunteer for everything!” (laughter). So I immediately raised my hand and volunteered for it and it was one of the best things that could ever happen to a junior O5, a junior commander. I ended up going to Washington with the three star to brief Admiral Kelso who was then Chief of Naval Operations on a number of occasions.

I became the voice for Corps values at that time. So it was a wonderful, wonderful thing to have written into the narrative of your fitness report as a fairly junior officer that you were the Chairman that happens to be responsible for the Quality Management Board that is putting together this wonderful initiative. So that was a great, great blessing. I learned so much about the training world. I was in charge of the funded Graduate Education Program.

We, in the Chaplain Corps, would send students to various universities and seminaries. These were great learning opportunities, Harvard, Princeton, Duke, Trinity, so I would travel to these different schools, get to learn about the curricula offered, get to know faculty members, interact with the students to make sure that what they were learning was what we needed to match the code that we were attempting to have them fill.

So it was wonderful experience of interacting in academia that has served me quite well and because when I retire in about eight months, I will probably end up in an academic institution. I see some providence involved in that experience. So Chief of Naval Education and Training was just a great, great experience. I was working for a friend and a colleague, Chaplain Ed Condin, a Roman Catholic priest who’s one of the great, great chaplains.

We just had a great time trying new ideas and doing wonderful things. It was a great, great experience. I think I may have said that the Naval Academy and Mag 31, that Chief of Naval Education and Training has to be right up there with them in terms of really being the truly fun time for ministry until the subsequent assignment.

That was when Admiral White really went out on a limb because I don’t think at any other time in the history of the Navy Chaplain Corps had a senior and a subordinate at any Chaplain Command been sent to the two fleets. We had two primary fleets, the Atlantic fleet and the Pacific fleet. I mean those are the jobs. There’s an old saying that the road to DC flag ring came through Hawaii so Pacific fleet had a tremendous reputation. Admiral White had actually been Pacific Fleet Chaplain along with a disproportionate percentage of other Chiefs of Chaplains. Ross Trower had been Pacific Fleet chaplain, Neil Stevenson, I believe had been Pacific chaplain.

The fleets, tremendous opportunity to make a difference and to manage at the ______ level. Admiral White who had been very innovative in giving some of the baby O6’s we called them, the ones that were just putting on that senior rank, an opportunity for some pretty high powered, fast lane jobs while they were still hungry. That was a change of the paradigm. His selection for Chaplain of the Coast Guard, Chaplain Tom Chadwick. Chadwick went in as a three striper, was just about to put on his 4th stripe and I went into the fleet job just putting on my 4th stripe, indeed a baby O6.

I would imagine that some of his advisors and some of my detractors would say this is a baby O6, he doesn’t even have 20 years in, where’s he going to go after that. But Chaplain White made the decision anyhow and God took care of an assignment after that job because I was selected while Atlantic Fleet Chaplain to be the Deputy Chief of Chaplains for the Navy. So if you’re looking for someone to sue or put in jail, Rear Admiral White, I’ll get an address and a phone number for you. He’s the individual most likely to be incarcerated for making that happen.

Zarbock: I rather send him a laudatory letter (laughter).

Black: Well the Atlantic Fleet job was amazing. As soon as I arrived, the Haitians and the Cubans started jumping into the water and we had the huge migrant crisis where we had more than 50,000 migrants at Quantanamo Bay in Cuba. I had the wonderful opportunity of coordinating ministry for over 50,000 migrants. I preached to 10,000 Haitians at one time in the camp in Quantanamo Bay, Cuba.

We had baptismal services with 15 chaplains in the water as we provided ministry not only for military personnel, but also for migrants. It was an incredible experience. It also introduced me to the world of joint ministry because I had an additional duty responsibility to U.S. Atlantic Command now on Joint Forces Command. So I ended up flying to Europe and all around in the CINC’s plane and the Atlantic fleet.

Zarbock: CINC being?

Black: Well we don’t have that phrase anymore, but that was Commander in Chief of various theaters. We’ve now been informed that there is only one Commander in Chief so they’ve changed the name, but that’s the old name. It was a wonderful, wonderful education, a wonderful experience and a wonderful opportunity to meet people who would later be the leaders of the Navy.

Second Fleet was Jay Johnson who would later be Chief of Naval Operations. The DCINC for ACOM was Hal Gamen…

Zarbock: Sorry, would you translate that?

Black: That’s the Deputy Commander in Chief, the second in command. He would be like an executive officer. He would later be the CINC for USACOM and would also be Vice-Chief of Naval Operations. The DCINC for Atlantic Fleet was a fellow by the name of Vern Clark who is my current boss and who is the Chief of Naval Operations. My Deputy at Atlantic Fleet was Louis Iasello who is now my Deputy Chief of Chaplains and Chaplain to the Marine Corps, one star Admiral and the First Flag Officer Chaplain of the Marine Corps.

So it was just a marvelous, marvelous experience with tremendous individuals who have influenced what the Navy and the Marine Corps look like today. In fact, the Commanding Officer at the Joint Task Force was a Marine Corps officer, Mike Williams, who later was the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. He just moved from that job and of course he works with the Marines as well. Just an incredible opportunity to network, to bond with people, to become friends with people and to become a part of this exciting sea service experiment of the ministry.

When I was selected for Admiral, I was the first African American in the history of the Navy Chaplain Corps to be so honored. I was also interesting enough the first special worship category, the first Seventh Day Adventist to have the opportunity to serve at this rarified level. That was a tremendous experience with a lot of challenging and interesting things going on.

It was a three year assignment and then my current job, a presidential appointment to be the Chief of Chaplains for the Navy. I’ve had a great ride. It’s been over two years now. We’ve had a strategic plan that everyone has bought into from the Secretary of the Navy, Chief of Navy Operations, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Commandant of the Coast Guard. We’ve had eight fantastic priorities, about 75% of them have been implemented.

The initiatives for those priorities, an exciting time to be involved in sea service ministry. If I could do another 26 years because that’s how long I’ve been doing it, I’d grab it in a heart beat. I can’t think of any ministry more fulfilling than what I’ve been engaged in for now more than a quarter of a century.

Zarbock: That’s a long, long trip from Cherry Hill, isn’t it?

Black: It really is, but I think God had it in mind all along. You see what growing up in the inner city did for me is it developed in me an almost lyrical infatuation with water. I didn't realize it. Baltimore you would think I’d see a lot of water, but in the cocoon of the inner city, you see the asphalt jungle. You don’t see the water.

I fell in love with the water when I was exposed to it as a teenager. I proposed to my bride Brenda on a beach in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was the water that was the critical factor. I think it was like the siren call of Ulysses It was the water that pulled me to the Navy. Probably other than accepting Christ as Lord and marrying Brenda, the third best decision of my life, it really was. I was born to do this kind of work and I don’t regret it at all.

Zarbock: How have you seen God revealed in the military?

Black: Well I’ve seen God revealed first of all in the lines that have been transformed by the ministry of chaplains and religious programs. I have seen homicidal ideation eviscerated. I’ve seen suicidal ideations taken care of. I’ve seen people that the psychiatrists had given up on, that the psychologists had given up on, experience an amazing metamorphosis simply because of the worship experience.

I’ve seen senior leaders change their minds about critical decisions because of the advice that they have received from chaplains. I’ve seen strategies and policies altered again because of the influence of chaplains. So I’ve seen God move in many, many ways as a result of having an opportunity to be a part of military ministry.

I talked about preaching to vice presidents. I’ve had the opportunity to preach to at least two Presidents, President Clinton and President George W. Bush. I have in my office a famous picture where I’m standing between George the elder and George W. It’s an opportunity, I’ve seen God move, because you can preach to the most powerful man in the world and let the word of God come alive. Who knows what the spirit of God may be doing through you. It’s humbling to think of what the possibilities are. So that’s a long way from Cherry Hill, to actually have the President of the United States shake your hand at the end of a worship service and say, “ thanks chaplain.” The hand of God has manifested itself again and again in my life.

Zarbock: What comments would you care to make about again a substantial change in the social order, the involvement of women in military chaplains?

Black: Well my personal perspective is that God is an equal opportunity employer and when he calls people to the ministry, he doesn’t target gender. I think the Navy helped broaden me because I come from a tradition where we don’t have women. When I was a Lieutenant, we had a African American Chaplain’s Conference where we were trying to recruit more chaplains in the Navy.

Rear Admiral White at the time was a Commander and was delegated the responsibility in being involved in that initiative. We were here in D.C. at Howard University and a chaplain by the name of Florida Battles was asked to give a sermonette, a little devotional message. As we stood down by the river, she took her text from one of the Psalms which said, “By the river of Babylon, there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion. We hang our hearts upon the ____ in the midst thereof for they that carried us away demanded of us a Psalm. Yea they that wasted us. Demanded of us ______ saying sing us one of the Psalms of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song…”.

She said my _________ is without ________. She proceeded to preach and you could sense the presence of God and I thought to myself, “ how can anyone argue about a calling to ministry who is experiencing what is going on here?” Well quite frankly, Florida was the first woman I had ever heard preach. Probably the first female clergy person I had ever met! But it certainly changed my mind about the role of women.

I think the Navy had been a leader in providing women with a venue where they can exercise their God given call to ministry. So I’m very proud to be a part of an organization that has done that.

Zarbock: My last question, before my last question, do you have any other comments?

Black: Well I would. I’ve really been a little less objective than I should be in terms of touting the Navy Chaplain Corps although we did spank Army in the recent game.

Zarbock: You had to say that, didn't you?

Black: Yes, yes, but I think military ministry is an option that a lot of people called to serve the people of God ought to consider and it doesn’t have to be the Navy. I did not know about that option. Had to learn about it by having some sailors visit my church on a regular basis. I’ve had so much fun and received so much fulfillment from this incredible opportunity that I would ask any minister, any priest, any rabbi, any eman___ to seriously consider it as a vocation. You don’t have to do 26 years. I wish I could do 56 years.

You can do three years, but to consider it as an option. It will broaden you and it will give you an opportunity to carry the message that God has placed upon your heart into arenas that you never dreamed of. So that is my commercial for this video. Don’t miss the opportunity to have one of the most exciting ministry experiences available to human beings on this planet.

Zarbock: One of the nifty things about your remarks is that I think you spiked my gun in that I was going to ask, Admiral, assume theoretically and in the abstract, that the Chaplain Corps in all of the Services had been abolished. What difference would it make?

Black: Well the Navy has been around for 227 years so we’ve been involved since our nation was born. There would have been people dying on battlefields without having someone hold their hand and talk to them about eternity. There would have been people going into harm’s way who were not spiritually fit, physically fit but not spiritually fit and missing the force multiplying factor of faith. Colin Powell said faith is a force multiplier.

So our Armies, our Air Forces, our Marine Corps would not have been as prepared for armed struggle. There would have been leaders, military leaders, political leaders who affect the military and govern the military who would have had to make decisions without the critical ethical framework that chaplain advisors can bring. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld invited Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs of Chaplains in one time, just to talk about Just War Theory.

What about proportionality, what about correct authority in the implementation of war. These kinds of dimensions would have been missed. The American people would not have I think the same confidence as they send their sons and daughters in to harm’s way without knowing that there is that spiritual dimension. The free exercise rights of people would not be protected as they would have to go into harm’s way without being able to worship in the manner to which they were accustomed before the call of service.

I think because Proverbs 14:34 says “Righteousness exalts a nation of sinners in reproach to any people”. The scores of people who return to civilian life changed because of the ministry of chaplains thereby enriching society because of the experiences they have had exposed to the ministry that we do. That would be missed. Sort of like the James Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life, that would be missed.

I don’t think America would be as good and as Tocqueville once said, “America is strong because America is good and when America ceased to be good, America will cease to be strong”.

Zarbock: Thank you Admiral. May be Lord be with you.

Black: And also with you.

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